12/17/2010 04:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Divorce Inevitable?

We've had our share of celebrity scandals in the past year -- high profile splits that filled the tabloids, leaving us clucking our tongues and shaking our heads.

We were dumbstruck by the sheer number of Tiger's infidelities, and impressed by Sandra Bullock's class act. We dropped our jaws when it came to Mel Gibson's ravings, and we were saddened by the separation of former Vice President Al Gore and wife Tipper.

In the past week alone, I've lost count of the celebrity breakups making the news. Shall we pull out a recent roster? Let's see -- Dylan Walsh and Joanna Going, Elizabeth Hurley and hubby Arun Nayar, Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson, Dexter's Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter.

It's been a few hours. Who's next?

Some months back I recall reading about Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn divorcing after a 14-year marriage. They have two children, and were together in a reportedly on-again, off-again relationship that spanned two decades. There were no accusations of infidelity, abuse, or anything particularly sensational (for a change). In fact, the articles I read suggest that while the couple had some publicized ups and downs -- including filing for divorce previously -- eventually, they just decided to call it quits.

Is this the way marriage ends for most of us? Does it just wear out? Are Gen X, Gen Y, and the Baby Boomers incapable of making the necessary compromises to sustain a viable union? How will the roughly 50 million Millennials do by comparison? According to some research, they value marriage, yet they're in no hurry to tie the proverbial knot.

I think back to my grandparents, to the way they seemed devoted to each other and to their marriages. Of course there were rough patches, and I imagine there were indiscretions -- that's what they were called back then -- but no one picked up a phone to dispatch an attorney over a momentary lapse. At least, not in my family. In fact, my maternal grandparents were married for some fifty years, and my paternal grandparents, for more than sixty.

I couldn't say for certain whether or not my grandparents were happy, but I know they were happy some of the time. As for the rest, they were committed. They honored their vows -- for better or worse - and they honored the sanctity of the family unit.

Sure, it's a different world. Life is more chaotic, we have more choices, we're enamored of "living in the present," and certainly, we're more selfish. How could our marriages not be impacted? Shouldn't our ongoing discussion of divorce incorporate the changing needs of contemporary coupling?

Realistically, there will always be extremes like Tiger and Mel, and situations that make divorce an absolute necessity. And if there are no children or if they're grown -- no harm, no foul?

I wonder if marriage is obsolete or simply inflexible; if we rely too heavily on romantic love, if in our increasing narcissism, we've lost touch with foundational concepts of shared values and character. We know monogamy isn't a natural state for many, that parenting and money worries can kill off passion, that bit by bit when we aren't vigilant, busy adults will grow apart.

So why must we marry? Short of a massive cultural shift, isn't divorce inevitable? And as for remarriage, I admit -- I don't get it. Why not just live together?